Drinking good coffee is the key to a happy life, right? But what if you want more than just good flavor, you also want good environmental practices and fair working conditions for the coffee farmers?
Well, that’s where the best organic coffee beans come in.
Quite rightly, many coffee drinkers are prioritizing protecting the environment when choosing which coffee beans to buy. So, there are certain buzzwords that people look for – ‘Organic’ probably being the most famous of these. For many of us, it is a must-have seal of approval for any food and drink.
The organic seal is more than just marketing mumbo-jumbo. So, alongside our top organic coffee recommendations, here we will break down exactly what it means (and what it doesn’t):
So, let’s dive right in as we shine a light on exactly what the restrictions are and what the farmers need to do to get that coveted USDA Organic label on their packaging. We will also break down what organic coffee farming does and doesn’t do with regard to flavor and how this affects the farmers. Then, you will be able to make fully informed coffee buying decisions that look after both your morning brew and mother Earth.
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Whilst this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are certainly other organic coffee brands out there, the following sell a great range of quality organic coffee. So you are spoiled for choice:
1. Lifeboost Organic Coffee Beans
Positioned as one of the healthiest organic coffee brands, Lifeboost focus on low-acid, mycotoxin-free coffee that is good for your health. And the health of the environment.
All of their single-origin organic coffees from Nicaragua bear the USDA seal of approval. Plus they donate a portion of their profits to Rainforest Trust and Project Alianza to protect wildlife and the support children’s education in rural areas.
So, whether you choose from their core range of light, medium, dark, or decaf coffee, or if you go for one of Lifeboost coffee’s range of naturally flavored coffees, you are supporting your heath, the environment, and the people behind your cup of joe.
2. Kicking Horse
These Canadian coffee roasters have to win the prize for best office view in the world – the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Known for more than just their views, they have a delicious range of delicious (and quirkily named) coffees that are 100% certified organic. They are audited annually by ECOCERT to ensure that none of their whole coffee beans are grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
If that wasn’t all, they are also the largest Fairtrade coffee roasters in Canada.
3. Death Wish Coffee
Boasting the “World’s Strongest Coffee”, you are guaranteed only fully caffeinated organic coffees here.
They are known for their distinctive strong, bold dark roast coffee flavor so they’re not for the faint hearted. But you can get your certified Organic and Fair Trade Death Wish Coffee in whole bean, ground, or coffee pod varieties.
4. Java Planet Organic Coffee Beans
It’s in the name – all of their coffees are 100% certified organic. Whilst the packaging may be a little on the garish side, we can’t fault what’s inside the bag. Whether you shop their single-origin organic coffees or opt for one of their flavored offerings, you won’t be disappointed.
Many of their coffees also hold other sustainable and ethical coffee labels like Rainforest Alliance and the Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification.
5. Spirit Animal
For us, Spirit Animal sell the best organic specialty coffee. Each of their offerings is single-origin Honduran coffee and really shows off what makes Hoduras such an exciting coffee-producing country. You can choose between single-varietal or a blend of two Arabica coffee varieties, all of which have achieved at least 85/100 cup score from the Specialty Coffee Association.
As they work directly with small-scale farmers they are able to guarantee the growing practices. But they don’t have organic certification due to the expense and difficulty in obtaining it.
6. Other Brands With Some Organic Options
Many organic coffee brands don’t hold certification for every bag of coffee in their range. This is because they source from all over the world where farmers come under different challenges on a day-to-day basis. But overlook them at your peril.
Some of our favorite coffee roasters, always have great organic coffee options as long as you’re willing to look for them. Great examples of this are:
- Volcanica who have the most extensive range of global coffees
- Equator Coffees who we have never had a bad bag of coffee beans from
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Portland-based and renowned for their high-quality specialty coffee selection
So, to help you choose, we’ve put together our top organic coffee recommendations. This list features our favorite certified organic coffees from all over the world. You can check out what to expect from the coffees, what makes them so good, and decide which one you will try first:
Spirit Animal – Bourbon
Spirit Animal is relatively new to the scene but they’re doing very exciting things with Honduran micro-lot coffees. They focus on only the best 1% of Arabica organic coffee beans, sourced from their Rainforest Alliance Certified organic coffee farms. Doing so showcases the incredible flavors of Honduras’ coffee regions.
This outstanding coffee exclusively uses the Bourbon cultivar of Arabica coffee. The farmer, Yuliana Hernandez, demonstrates her passion, dedication, and love of her work – not just in the quality of coffee produced, but also in her sustainable farming practices and efforts to improve the local community.
As the micro-lot is situated 5,250 feet above sea level, the trees grow slowly allowing the development of complex flavor compounds. Once harvested, the organic coffee cherries undergo natural processing which shows off the rich and complex flavors of this coffee.
With a cup score of 89/100 from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) this is the best of organic coffee brewing; celebrating the flavors of hazelnuts, cacao and tropical fruit, with a deep richness. For the best results, we recommend brewing in a Hario V60 or Chemex.
Volcanica Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee
This offering from Volcanica comes from one of the most exciting coffee regions on the planet. As the birthplace of the Arabica coffee plant, Ethiopia grows a variety of heirloom coffee varietals that have been growing wild in the country for thousands of years.
If you’ve never tried Ethiopian coffee before, these coffee beans from Yirgacheffe will rock your next organic coffee fix thanks to the diversity of flavors.
Yirgacheffe is located in the south of Ethiopia. When brewing organic coffees from this region, you can expect intensely floral and fruity flavors with a bewitching complexity and almost wine-like feel on the palate.
And Volcanica’s Yirgacheffe organic coffee certainly shows off those great flavors. Alongside a refreshing acidity, there are notes of lemon and berries, and a floral aroma. The medium/light roasting allows you to fully experience the taste of this unique growing region.
The delicate floral notes and subtle fruit flavors are highlighted thanks to the washed processing method used. But, where possible, natural processed Ethiopian coffee is also well worth trying for its bombastic fruits, refreshing acidity, and slightly fuller body.
Lifeboost Organic – Dark Roast Coffee
What to Expect:
Source: Mt. Kilambé, Nicaragua (Single-Origin)
Tasting notes: Sweet fruit, gentle body, and creamy chocolate
Important notes: Lifeboost are committed to selling the healthiest coffee beans possible so they are low acidity, screened by a 3rd party to ensure there are no mycotoxins, and both Organic & Shade Grown
Lifeboost Coffee’s website is awash with customer testimonials waxing lyrical about their great-tasting coffee. Plus, there’s plenty of information about the health benefits and why theirs are the best organic coffee beans available.
Don’t let the slightly spammy feel put you off though because, once you sift through all that, you’ll discover a range of really high-quality low-acid organic coffee beans. They are all grown on a single farm in Nicaragua that not only tastes amazing but is also Certified Organic and Shade Grown. And, if that wasn’t enough, a third-party company tests their beans to ensure there are no possible contaminants.
So, if you’re looking for total peace of mind about how your coffee is grown then Lifeboost is the best organic coffee brand for you. And, if dark roast isn’t your brew, they have several organic coffees to suit all tastes.
The low acidity gives the fruit notes a sweet and tropical feeling that is typical of the best Nicaraguan coffees. This pairs perfectly with the lighter body and flavors of smooth chocolate and nuts on the finish. If you prefer a gentler brew, this is a truly indulgent cup of joe particularly for espresso or French press.
Equator Coffees – Sumatra Queen Ketiara
What to Expect:
Source: Takengon, Sumatra (Single-Origin)
Processing Method: Wet-hulled (Giling Basah)
Tasting notes: Tangerine, clove, chocolate, and tobacco
Important notes: The Organic Certified and Fair Trade coffee from the Gayo Mountains is exclusively from women-led farms. A premium is paid to support programs that benefit women
Equator Coffees has sourced these coffee beans from Ketiara, a cooperative located in the Gayo Highlands of Sumatra. It is led by Rahmah, the incredible woman who founded the coop in 2009 with only 38 members. The Ketiara Co-op now has over 2,000 smallholder farmers, over 50% of which are women.
This particular coffee is bought exclusively from the women smallholders in the cooperative – referred to as Queen Ketiara. So, Equator Coffees pay an extra premium for the “Queen” designation. But this extra money goes to projects that benefit women in the Gayo Highlands region.
Hailing from Indonesia, the Sumatran organic coffee beans are wet-hulled processed (known as Giling Basah) – a process unique to Indonesian coffee. The result of this process is a very distinctive coffee flavor profile that is fuller-bodied with intense earthy, woody, spicy notes. The acidity is also lowered giving a softer feel on the palate – it’s a coffee sensation like no other in the world.
The Queen Ketiara organic coffee beans show off notes of chocolate, vanilla, orange, tobacco, and clove. With a full body and gentle acidity, the resulting brew is very punchy so will definitely wake you up in the morning!
Java Planet – Colombian Organic Coffees
What to Expect:
Source: Colombia (Single-Origin)
Tasting notes: Fruity, caramel, nuts with a smooth chocolate finish
Important notes: Java Planet is committed to sustainable practices that protect the natural world and its inhabitants. Therefore, this coffee is not only USDA Organic certified but also Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and the lesser-known Bird-Friendly Certified
Java Planet organic coffee roasters put their commitment to the environment as a top priority. This makes them one of the best organic coffee brands as all of their coffees have the USDA Organic seal of approval.
Plus, the majority (like the Colombia Organic) are also Rainforest Alliance and Smithsonian Bird-Friendly Certified as the ultimate triple threat.
By working hard to achieve the standards set by these governing bodies, Java Planet successfully covers all its bases: They protect the environment, wildlife, and worker wages in their coffee supply chain.
Colombia has a very diverse topography so the styles of coffee from around the country can be equally diverse. But, in general, Colombian coffee is known for bold fruit notes and a fuller body.
The low acidity of the Java Planet Colombia Organic coffee beans makes those fruity tones feel extra sweet and rich too. So, your brew will be bursting with flavors of sweet tropical fruit, caramel, and nuts.
Out of the Grey – Peruvian Specialty Coffee
What to Expect:
Source: La Florida, Peru (Single-Origin)
Processing Method: Washed
Tasting notes: Almonds, dark chocolate, and molasses, with slightly floral notes, full-body, and a bright finish
Important notes: This Handcrafted Fair Trade coffee is Certified Bird-Friendly by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Certified Organic
Lesser known in most coffee circles, Peruvian coffee is a bit of a hidden gem of quality in South America:
Of all the coffee in the world, most organic coffee is grown in Peru. So, the required standards and farming practices are well ingrained in their coffee-growing culture.
For the best Peruvian organic coffee beans, look to specialty coffee producer, Out of the Grey who goes one step further with their Bird-Friendly Certified coffee. The Smithsonian Institute developed this certification as a combined commitment towards environmental protection and ethical labor practices.
Grown in the foothills of the Andes, between the cities of Chiclayo and Cajamarca in the north of Peru, this coffee is very similar in style to many great Colombian coffees. It has flavors of rich sweet fruit, molasses, and almonds with a touch of floral for good measure. The fresher acidity gives a more refreshing, crisp finish – we recommend brewing in a French press or a pour over.
Kicking Horse Coffee – Kick Ass
Kicking Horse Coffee is a bit of a cult sensation. And with good reason:
They specialize in top-quality blends, using only the best Arabica organic coffee beans sourced from around the world. All of the beans used have received both Fair Trade and Organic Certifications.
For their Kick Ass coffee, a blend of Indonesian and South American coffee beans has been used. The result is a full-throated coffee roar on the palate that will get you up and going, ready to kick ass for the day.
By combining the woody, spicy tones from the Indonesian beans with the bold fruity sweetness of the South American ones, you get a really full palate of coffee flavors. Plus, there’s a hint of smoke from the darker roast.
If you like big, bold coffee and generally drink espresso or espresso-based drinks, this is a superb option. Espresso brewing or even French press will draw out the complex flavors of sweet fruit, chocolate, tobacco, molasses, and smokiness, all finished with caramelized notes.
Death Wish – World’s Strongest Coffee
Blends containing Robusta aren’t something you often see recommended here at Home Coffee Expert. But, for the insanely popular, punchy Death Wish Coffee, it’s worth making an exception. Don’t get us wrong, we have nothing against Robusta coffee, it just rarely offers the same complexity as Arabica coffee beans.
Marketed as The World’s Strongest Coffee, the Arabica/Robusta blend yields an intense cup of joe that will really hit you in all your senses.
Being Organic and Fair Trade certified, you can have the big hit you need from your morning brew and still feel good about how it was grown and purchased. The aim is to bring out the bold dark fruit flavors as well as the chocolate, nuts, and smoke that come with a darker roast.
If you’re a fan of really strong, bold cups of coffee, this is definitely one you need to try. By brewing in a French press or AeroPress you have control over the extraction making both a great way to taste the nuanced (but not subtle) flavors. Although we wouldn’t say no to a Death Wish espresso either.
However, if you’re worried that the big, bold flavors from the high caffeine organic coffee beans will be too much for you, Death Wish offers a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee. So, it’s well worth ordering as you’ve got nothing to lose. Plus, you can pick the option that works best for you from whole bean, ground, or coffee pods – probably the best organic coffee pods you can buy.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Holler Mountain
Stumptown Coffee Roasters have been in the roasting game since 1999 and their Holler Mountain blend has been with them from the start. So they kinda know what they’re doing when it comes to this delicious organic coffee blend.
The combination of flavors from around the world results in a full-bodied cup of joe that is bursting with flavor. You get the chocolatey tones from Central and Southern American coffees alongside the brightness of East African coffees. And, by blending, they can ensure a consistent flavor profile year after year.
Overall, you get a complex, creamy cup of joe that works well with any brew method. That said, we love pulling espressos with Holler Mountain to pull out the citrus bursts alongside the creamy caramel and hazelnut notes.
Tiny Footprint – Signature Blend Light Roast
What makes organic coffee better for the environment? How about organic coffee beans that are also carbon negative?
Tiny Footprint is the first company to produce carbon-negative coffee. They achieve this by donating proceeds from all sales to restore and protect the Mindo Cloud Forest in Ecuador.
For every pound of coffee sold, trees are planted that will remove 54lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere. Additionally, the trees provide a habitat for wildlife, increasing biodiversity in one of the world’s most important forests.
All that ecological goodness leaves a pretty good taste in your mouth. And, when you’re done, just remove the label and the paper coffee bags are 100% compostable.
This blend utilizes coffee from all over the globe to give a rich and balanced cup of coffee. The light roast profile means that the bright citrus flavors of the beans are accentuated with mellow chocolate and nut notes on the finish, perfect for pour overs. However, if you prefer your coffee a little more roasted, the signature blend also comes in medium, dark, and espresso roasts.
For the best carbon-negative organic coffee beans that you can feel really good about buying whilst also tasting awesome, this is The One.
Unfortunately, it’s a little more in-depth than that. It includes everything from growing organic coffee crops, to how the coffee is handled all the way to the packaging. This is how the USDA defines organically grown coffee (and other foodstuffs):
Organic is a labeling term found on products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.USDA
So, let’s break that down:
Organic coffee farmers must rely on natural substances (not synthetic) and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods as far as possible. For example, this could include swapping out phosphate fertilizer for chicken manure.
In order to label coffee as Organic or use the USDA Organic coffee seal in the US, it must undergo strict production, handling, and labeling standards. The standards cover a variety of things from soil quality to fertilizers and pest control. Synthetic fertilizers, certain pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering are all prohibited.
There is a time element too. All organic coffee (in fact, all organic produce), must be grown on soil that has had no prohibited substances used on it in the last 3 years.
Plus, the environment used for processing and packaging the coffee must also be free from all chemicals. This means, for example, that the coffee roaster must never have held non-organic coffee.
So, when you see the organic label on your coffee beans, you know it has been carefully handled all the way from the farm to your cup.
So, if you want to truly get to grips with what it means to buy organic coffee and its implications, this is the section for you:
ORGANIC COFFEE LABELING
There are 4 different organic labels you may see on products like coffee:
- 100% Organic
- Made with Organic Ingredients
- Specific Organic Ingredients.
Confused? We’ve got you covered:
100% Organic – The simplest and most obvious of all the labels. In this case, the product must be made up of 100% organic ingredients and the label must also have the name of the certifying agent. So, it may say “100% Organic” or it might have the USDA Organic seal.
Organic – This is where it gets a bit complex: Labels that say “Organic” are allowed up to 5% of the item to be produced using substances on the “allowed” non-organic list, excluding salt and water. Again the name of the certifying agent must be present on the label and the USDA Organic Certified seal can be used.
Made with Organic – This label rarely applies to coffee, though it is possible to see in some coffee blends. Here, at least 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic and it must be overseen by a certified agent.
Specific Organic Ingredients – Any product that is not overseen by a certified agent can only list organic products in the ingredients list, along with the percentages of said products. This one isn’t really relevant for coffee but always worth knowing exactly what you’re buying.
ARE ORGANIC STANDARDS GLOBAL?
Each country or region has its own organic standards and certifications. For example, China, Japan, Europe, and the UK all have their own agencies with their own rules. But, whilst their rules are different, they do have some similarities:
Generally speaking, organic coffee farms around the world can’t use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Nor are genetically modified crops allowed.
To make things more complex for the coffee farmers, if they sell their organic coffee beans to multiple markets, they need to be certified organic by the various agencies. And the price for this quickly adds up. It is the complicated nature of organic certification and the associated costs that lead some farmers to practice organic coffee growing without any official certification.
ALTERNATIVE COFFEE CERTIFICATION
Having organically grown and certified coffee is great. But it doesn’t ensure that your coffee is grown ethically, only that best practices are followed in terms of the use of chemicals. There are no checks on workers wages or protection of rainforest or wildlife in the area.
Luckily, that’s where a host of other certification bodies step in:
For the protection of the hard-working coffee farmers and their wider communities, organizations/ practices like Fair Trade (US), Fairtrade (international), and Direct Trade step in.
Bird-Friendly certification is a lesser-known seal of approval from the Smithsonian. As the name implies, bird habitats are protected thanks to strict shade-grown standards. Plus, it ensures organic farming. So, you really are getting the best of the best organic coffee beans with this certification.
Rainforest Alliance Certification steps in as the middleman between protecting both the environment and the people. Here, there are strict ecological and environmental standards to be followed, plus a commitment to the coffee farmers and their communities.
Whilst there are plenty of ethical coffee standards out there, not all of them are legally defined. So, if you want to really get to grips with the terms used on your coffee labels, head over to our Complete Guide to Ethical Coffee.
No matter what coffee beans you choose, the flavor will be impacted by a number of elements. There’s the production method, growing conditions and region, processing, roasting, even the packaging.
So, despite organic coffee beans being grown under better conditions, we can’t categorically say they taste better. The reason is that being non-organic is a sliding scale rather than an absolute.
For example, a coffee farm may do everything to the highest organic standards but their coffee doesn’t have organic certification. Sadly, the reason is almost always down to money as demonstrated in the following scenarios:
- If the coffee farmer is living hand to mouth, as is all too common, they need flexibility if something goes wrong. This means having the wiggle room to use some non-organic products if it saves their harvest.
- To get organically certified, coffee farmers need to pay. And it doesn’t come cheap. So, for many, the barriers to entry are just too high.
- Coffee is a commodity that is well sought after by worldwide consumers. But, if the extra income from selling certified organic coffee doesn’t outstrip the costs of certification, there is little benefit to the farmers.
All this means that there are countless farms globally producing some of the absolute best organic coffee beans. But you won’t find an organic label on any of their bags of coffee.
So, as a coffee lover, it’s important to do a little digging. Only buy from companies you trust and have transparent supply chains. Look for organic certification but don’t dismiss the coffee offhand if it’s not there. Remember, just because the USDA Organic seal is missing doesn’t mean your coffee is full of nasty chemicals.
Sadly not. For many coffee farmers, the process to getting certified and then maintaining it is too expensive. They have to create an “organic system plan” which covers all aspects of growing coffee from tilling the soil to transporting the beans. This plan also has to include how they will keep non-organic substances away from their soil, which is tricky if they are near a non-organic farm as winds can blow over trace elements.
Organic certification also isn’t a “one and done” deal. The farms are inspected annually to ensure the required standards are continuously met. All of this comes with a price tag. So all the best organic coffee beans need to sold at a premium to ensure wages are paid and a profit is made.
If your coffee is best enjoyed minus the caffeine, there are a few different decaffeination methods used. Out of the 4 main options, both the Swiss Water Process and Carbon Dioxide can be considered organic decaf coffee processing methods as they don’t involve the use of chemicals.
Our guide to the best decaf coffees has a whole section dedicated to organic decaf coffee beans. Check it out here.
On the face of it, this is a very simple question. But the reality is immensely complicated:
Coffee can’t be split into 2 neat categories – organic and non-organic coffee. Instead, there is a sliding scale from one to the other with lots of variation along the way including farming practices and the use of pesticides.
As an overgeneralization, organic coffee is more likely to be healthier than non-organic coffee in terms of chemical usage. However, just having an Organic Certification label doesn’t automatically equal healthier coffee. In fact, many non-organic coffees will be just as chemical-free as the organic stuff. Your best bet is to buy from trusted roasters with transparent supply chains rather than relying solely on labels.
Drinking the best tasting, best quality cup of coffee is the goal. And, thanks to the extra care, time, and attention that has gone into producing organic coffee, it’s a pretty good place to start.
There are many benefits to removing chemicals from the coffee growing process:
1. It protects the soil quality, ensuring it can still grow coffee for generations to come
2. The biodiversity is not only protected but can also flourish
3. There is no toxic run-off making its way into the local water supply which improves the health of coffee farmers and their communities
4. No chemical nasties make it into your organic coffee brew
That’s not to say you shouldnt pay close attention to how your coffee is grown and sourced, or check for the USDA Organic Coffee label. You absolutely should: it’s a great way to ensure your coffee isn’t damaging the environment or had any nasty chemicals used on it.
But, if you have time, take a further look. Check for other coffee certifications and labels, where the beans were bought, and who profits the most. Sadly, buying organic coffee doesn’t guarantee the farmers and workers receive fair wages or that the coffee-growing communities are supported. That’s where the other coffee labels come into their own.
Specialty coffee producers are a good place to start. Usually, premium coffee brands stock exclusively or, at least, predominantly organic coffee beans. So a quick search on their ‘about’ page should shed some light on their ethics and growing practices.
With organic coffee becoming more and more mainstream, there is more and more choice out there too. Which is great. But it also means there is more variability between the great and the not-so-good. Luckily, all the best organic coffees listed here not only deliver on environmental protection but also on taste. After all, good coffee is what it’s all about.
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